What do you do after losing $500-million worth of silver? You find more. That's exactly what Tampa-based Odyssey Marine Exploration has done.
After losing a court battle with Spain and seeing the sunken Spanish treasure fly out of Tampa last February, they came up with another one. Under a deal reached with the United Kingdom, Odyssey pulled up a trove of huge silver bars from a sunken World War II-era freighter off the coast of Ireland.
They plan to finish the job this spring and bring up more silver from that vessel. Their adventure was even chronicled in a recent Discovery Channel documentary called "Silver Rush."
BACK TO BASICS
While all of this treasure battling was going on, Odyssey's Tom Dettweiler and others in the company were looking at another rich treasure of the sea -- minerals. Geologists say unimaginable amounts of copper, silver, phosphate and magnesium are hidden below the oceans.
"A very nice byproduct of those minerals is gold," said Dettweiler, who began his career searching for underwater minerals more than 30 years ago before turning to searches for the Titanic and sunken treasure.
The time was right to give underwater minerals another try.
NOW FOR SOMETHING NOT COMPLETELY DIFFERENT
Losing the Spanish treasure, code named "Black Swan," was the catalyst for Odyssey to diversify into prospecting for deep sea minerals.
"And we're really glad we did because it's proving to be a very positive enterprise," said Odyssey's president, Mark Gordon.
The company purchased a vessel, now named the "Dorado Discovery." They've spent millions outfitting it with the latest technology to detect deep ocean minerals, which are often found near underwater vents or volcanoes. They've been able to adapt some of the technology used for shipwrecks to the undersea prospecting business.
The Dorado is now working in the Pacific Ocean.
FOOL US ONCE
Odyssey is also using another lesson learned from the treasure battle with Spain. They say they'll negotiate mineral rights before bringing anything up. While the United Nations oversees mining in the open ocean, individual governments control minerals closer to their shores.
"It's out to 200 nautical miles," explained Gordon. "It's called the Exclusive Economic Zone, and this permits us to make deals in advance with governments."
THE SWEET SPOT?
The underwater mining industry may not gain full steam until engineers can develop a cost-effective method of mining that can also satisfy environmental concerns. Odyssey believes such technologies are already here, and large-scale, environmentally safe, undersea mining is on the horizon. That's why they've begun their deep water prospecting.
Odyssey will continue to search for sunken treasure, but they're betting shipwrecks aren't the only valuable secrets of the sea.
"We're talking about numbers that are much bigger than any of our treasure wrecks," added Dettweiler. "Ultimately this will become a very huge part of Odyssey."
For more information on Odyssey, visit www.shipwreck.net